An Overview of Navigation Options for SharePoint 2013 & Office 365

Navigation can be one of those tricky things that takes a bit of planning to get figured out. In this post I am going to cover a few things that are in place to help you provide a great experience for your users. Navigation is one of those things that is so important to your users so be sure that above all things you are thinking about them as you develop your approach. Keep it simple, keep it clean and easy to follow. Remember that you can have the best solution ever but users must use it for it to be successful. If a user gets easily lost moving through your solution or can’t find what they expect then you are going to have a hard time getting them to use the solution.

Seattle vs Olso

If you have spent much time in the “change the look” area of SharePoint you have likely seen the Site Layout option.

This option allows you to pick a specific layout for your site. The default layout option is Seattle and provides your site with a “Global Navigation / Top Bar” and a “Quick Launch / Current Site” side navigation.

The Oslo option provides a second option for displaying navigation. When selected, the Current Navigation is displayed in the location of the Global Navigation and the Global Navigation is hidden. This is a great tool to use when you are interested in having only one set of navigation and would prefer to have more whitespace on your site to display content.

This second layout option of Oslo provides a great way to give your users more content and should be used when you don’t need to have a second layer of navigation. Both options have benefits of use, so I encourage you to simply pick the one that works best in the scenario that is driving your business solution.

Updating Team Site Navigation

Updating the links that are displayed within your navigation is a pretty easy task. If you are working with a Team Site (one without the Publishing features activated) then you will have a slightly different experience with the navigation settings. You will be able to update the links directly on the page (using the Edit links option) or you can use the Top Link and Quick Launch options within Site Settings.

If you would like additional settings, you can always go into Site Settings and use the settings page for Top Link or for Quick Launch to add and re-order links.

The options for managing navigation on a team site are pretty basic and there are limitations with what can be configured. If you find that you run into limitations, then you can always activate the publishing features to allow for the site to take advantage of some advanced navigation options.

Publishing Navigation

If you would like to use the advanced navigation options on your site you will need to either create your site using a Publishing template or activate the features within your team site. The feature you will want to activate is the Publishing Infrastructure Site Collection Feature.

Activate Publishing Feature for the Site Collection

Once this has been activated you will see a Navigation link in the Look and Feel section of the Site Settings page.

When you click on the Navigation settings link you will be able to have much more granular control over the site navigation. You can set the navigation to build itself automatically based on the pages and sites created within the site collection, you can manually add the links or you can point to a Managed Metadata Term Store (see below).

In most cases I am a fan of building it manually. I do this because I want to make sure that my navigation is consistent and only changes by design. This is really personal preference, so I am sure there are some business cases where it makes sense to build it based on site content.

Managed Metadata Navigation

If you have the need to use a common Navigation set across multiple site collections then you could take advantage of the Managed Metadata settings. This would allow you to create a term store that has all the navigation items you need that would be referenced in other site collections. If you need to update links you would simple update the term store and the changes would push down to all Site Collections that are referencing your term set.

Step 1: Create a Term Store

To create the term store you would need to be assigned create permissions. If you are not an administrator then you will need to work with your organizations administrators to create this. In most cases, there will be a set of governance guidelines that are associated with this type of thing. For the sake of this example, we are going to assume that the term store has already been created. If you don’t have one created and need to get help with those steps, just follow the information in this link: Below is a screenshot of the term store that we will be linking to for our site collection navigation.

Step 2: Reference the Term Store in Your Site Collection

Once your term store has been created, you just need to reference it in the Navigation settings for the site collection.

Once this has been configured, your site collection navigation will match the values in the term store. If you need to update the navigation, simply open the term store and make the changes there.

Promoted Links

Promoted Links are the final area of navigation that will be discussed in this blog. Promoted Links come from a custom list type that is new with SharePoint 2013. It allows you to create a list of Links with associated images that are displayed in a Tile format. A common example of the use of promoted links is the “Getting Started” toolbar that is displayed on new sites.

What most people don’t know is that you can create your own list using this same template and add whatever custom links you want. You just need to create a new app based on the list template and then populate it with your values.

These lists are a great way to streamline navigation to key areas or links that your users should be accessing. For many of the solutions I have built there are several different lists based on this template. The best part of all is that this list is just a standard SharePoint list, so items can easily be security trimmed. This means it is easy to display tiles to one group of users but not another.

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